Step in the right direction

Under the leadership of the military establishment, a Special Investment Facil­itation Council (SIFC) has been formed to stymie Pakistan’s economic downfall and harness its untapped op­portunities for develop­ment and growth. The format of the council will enable the businesses to function without bureau­cratic hurdles and structural inefficiencies in the regulatory and policy formulation system. 

Recently, Pakistan’s Army Chief held special meetings with the busi­ness community to take a pulse of the prevalent business sentiments. During his meeting, General Asim shared with businessmen the pros­pects of receiv-ing huge investments from Gulf countries under the SIFC. He told the business community that Saudi Arabia had pledged to invest $25 billion in Pakistan. Re­garding the UAE, the army chief has requested the Emirates’ rulers to in­vest another $25 billion in the SIFC-led projects. He has re-quested both countries to give Pakistan $10 bil­lion each to help it over-come the foreign exchange crisis. The mon­ey shall be returned in rupees once Pakistan gets back on its feet. 

According to the businessmen, the Army Chief has shown resolve never to return to the IMF be­cause the program takes away pow­er from the gov-ernment to initi­ate reforms. He further instructed core commander Karachi to take every measure to stop the smug­gling of Iranian oil. He also prom-is­ed a crackdown on smugglers and hoarders of sugar and dollars. The results are already visible in the re­duced cost of both commodities. 

Pakistan and the GCC countries have had a solid business relation­ship built on agriculture-based business until the 1980s and till the late 90s. Later, due to falling qual­ity standards and a lack of value-added products, Pakistan fell out of Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar’s list of reliable importers. That does not mean that Pakistan was removed from their importer’s list; there was, however, a significant reduction in the volume of imports to these countries. This volume will stagnate or reduce more unless we follow in­ternational quality standards. 

The formation of the SIFC will ad­dress the issue of quality manage­ment and control. The investors arriving in Pakistan for the produc­tion of edibles through agriculture and livestock farming shall be facil­itated with pro-cessing and pack­aging standards aligned with the international standing operating procedures. 

The GCC countries, including the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, have ac-quired on lease thousands of hectares of land in Ukraine for farm­ing; how-ever, the prospect of con­tinuing the contract has dimmed considerably due to the Russia- Ukraine war. On board with SIFC, this investment can be routed to Pakistan to procure large lands for agricultural farming, set up facto­ries to manufacture value-added food products and enable investors to acquire food storage and supply chain facilities. 

The SIFC shall focus on five areas: agriculture, mines, minerals, infor-mation technology, energy, and de­fense production. The target is to at­tract $100 billion in the next three years in Foreign Direct Investment and to achieve a nominal GDP of $1 trillion by fiscal year 2035. So far, 28 projects have been approved, in­cluding cattle farms, the $10 billion Saudi Aramco refinery, explorations of copper and gold in Chagai, and the Thar Coal Rail connectivity scheme. 

Though the forum would be open to all investors worldwide, the ini­tial tar-geted countries are Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain. The inves-tors from these countries would be issued priority visas for a swift execu-tion of investment deals. The SIFC mandate lends power to its apex com-mittees to summon regu­latory bodies and government rep­resentatives in case a bureaucratic hurdle impedes the execution of any project. The council can also facili­tate clients through regulatory relax­ation and exemp-tions without ex­ceeding the existing legal provisions. The forum was fur-ther strength­ened with the passing of the Special Investment Facilitation Council bill by the Pakistan Parliament on Au­gust 1. The legal framework and fa­cilitations are raised to address the GCC investors’ insecurity regard-ing policy continuity and Pakistan’s un­predictable business environment. 

According to the 2023 US Depart­ment of State, annual report titled “In-vestment Climate Statements: Pakistan,” foreign investors in Pak­istan have been unsatisfied with the legal system of the country and have asked for improved statutes, protection of intellectual property rights, and an assur-ance that Pak­istan would honour its contractual obligations along with providing an enabling environment for the set­tlement of tax disputes. 

With the military fully onboard, I hope SIFC will prove a panacea to Paki-stan’s economic woes. It will also work as a sovereign guarantee that no political change would af­fect the continuity of business pol­icies in the fu-ture nor the commit­ments granted to foreign investors. 

According to a responsible repre­sentative of a friendly Arab coun­try, it was the effort of Lt. General Nadeem Anjum that Pakistan and its army were saved from disinte­gration on May 9, 2023. He also said that if General Anjum had not taken timely action under the stewardship of General Asim Munir, Pakistan would have suffered innumerable losses. He further said that as the ISI chief, General Anjum is better posi­tioned to handle the spec-ter of ter­rorism emanating from Afghanistan.

Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi

Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi

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